Goose Island of Chicago is a pillar of the original craft beer movement. With its roots planted firmly back in 1988, the brewery is known for some of the most iconic beers of the last 25 years. But 10 years ago, they shocked the craft beer world by selling their brand to the behemoth of beer, Anheuser Busch (now AB InBev). With a decade in the rear view mirror, this decision had both positive and negative consequences on the community as a whole.
If you had to name one Goose Island beer, you probably would name their landmark series, Bourbon County Brand Stout (or BCBS). To this day at beer stores everywhere, patrons lineup on Black Friday to purchase one of the annual lineups that is released. It is not hyperbole to say that Goose Island changed the barrel-aging beers.
But now with a publicly traded company like AB InBev at the helm, it is hard to say whether or not the sale of the brewery has had the impact they expected. On the positive side, you can get Goose Island (and subsequently BCBS) nearly anywhere in the country where Budweiser is sold. In fact, the first IPA I ever saw at a professional sporting event was the Goose Island IPA at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD (go Os).
Yet part of the mystique of some of these beers is the scarcity. Standing in line in the cold to pay $20 for a bottle you may not drink for five years is like the initiation for any aspiring beer geek. Basic economics teaches us that as supply increases, demand decreases. It still shocks me to see Goose Island BCBS Rare sitting on my local beer store shelf years after its release. However, this availability opens the door for those just entering the scene, now given the opportunity to try a range of beers once reserved for the mildly obsessive enthusiast.
No doubt that the supply chain mastery, capital resources, and distribution connections AB InBev has makes for an enticing offer to any craft brewer. Goose Island, Devil’s Backbone, Kona and Breckenridge are among those who also saw a greater opportunity in selling their brewery. There is a huge difference between making great beer and making money, and the two are by no means joined at the hip. “Selling out” is in the eye of the beholder, but what may seem like prudent business decisions can have implications down the road. Did Goose Island truly sell out? I leave that decision to you.